Hazel McHaffie

The human side of caring

Wahey! I’ve just had a brand new experience. I’ve been up in Dundee at the teaching hospital, presenting prizes to medical students who participated in a creative writing competition. Me … awarding prizes! How grown-up is that?!

Actually it was a particular pleasure, because the subject for the competition was ‘Ethics and Humanistic Values’- a topic very dear to my heart. For several reasons …

1. When I was much the same age as these prize-winners, I entered a writing competition organised by the BMA.
My childhood Parker pen My entry was initially handwritten with a Parker fountain pen, I recall (yes, this very one with my name engraved on its side), then typed laboriously on a borrowed manual typewriter. (This was, of course, years before Wozniak dreamed up the idea of personal computers. How ageing is that?) And my essay was all about the importance of putting humanity into caring. You can almost hear the swift collective intake of scandalised medical breath in the sacred portals of BMA House. Holistic care? Tut tut. But astonishingly my entry won a prize! And I’ve been banging the same drum ever since. It’s those extra touches of kindness, sensitivity and compassion that really do make the difference. And the older I get, the more I believe it.

2. I’ve recently seen the less-than-optimal side of hospital care, as you know, but standing there in Dundee, surveying today’s young doctors-to-be, I felt tremendously reassured.
It’s heartwarming to know that they’re being actively encouraged to care, and think of patients’ feelings and anxieties; to be creative as well as scientific; not just to cram their heads with knowledge. I hope these lovely, sensitised men and women are the ones who care for me in my hour of need.

3. And then there’s my current personal crusade. I gave up clinical practice to do research about the dilemmas of modern medicine and how they affect patients and families; then I gave up research to write novels set in the world of medical ethics. And the whole raison d’être for weaving fictitious stories is to help people get inside the skin of characters grappling with these big questions. To help them understand themselves as well as others. To be sympathetic to different perspectives, beliefs and opinions. So it’s brilliant to find other people promoting the same messages, targeting the same goals.

I gladly agreed to shake a few hands and string together a few comments. And my blog gives me a chance to add my personal commendation: well done, Dundee medical school, for your healthy emphasis on reflective practice.

But I have to confess, it was sobering to think that, when I wrote my own essay on this subject, not only were none of these students so much as a twinkle in the eye, their parents were schoolkids! What’s more, the hospital/medical school in Dundee wasn’t even built. And it has been admitting patients since 1974.

Hey ho! Some reflections are more reassuring than others.

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